BAGHDAD - Soldiers who go out on missions to meet and greet local Iraqis have to be prepared for anything. Hand-shaking and smiles can quickly turn into a hunt for the bad guys.
That's exactly what happened for the Steel Knight Soldiers of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, while on a combined arms patrol in the Mutanabi neighborhood of Baghdad May 8. The artillerymen received a tip about an insurgent operative in the area while on patrol with local Iraqi Army commander Maj. Mohammed Abdul-Jabar, and snapped to action.
When the Soldiers received the tip, Sgt. 1st Class Sam Cook, a platoon sergeant in Battery A, 1st Bn., 7th FA Regt., called for his troops to mount up. The Steel Knight Soldiers were ready for anything, said Sgt. Christopher Burton of Kansas City, Kan.
"About midway through, we got a call for a [suspected insurgent], we have been trying to pick up," Sgt. Burton said. "We rolled up on the scene and dismounted, and pretty much checked every single shop."
When the Soldiers arrived in the area, they fanned out and began asking about the suspect, but the lead turned cold. The suspect apparently fled the area before the Soldiers arrived. It was not the first time Battery A Soldiers responded to a tip, but their vigilance had not faded, Burton said.
"Soldiers in my platoon, we live for that," Burton said. "We are field artillery, but we get to do our secondary [military occupational specialty] - infantry."
The community patrol, combined with the information from Iraqis who choose peace and security over terrorism, seemed to leave the Steel Knight Soldiers satisfied with the mission. Cook, the platoon sergeant who is known by his nickname "Smoke," among his troops and officers, said the Soldiers of Battery A will keep up the pressure on enemies who decide to operate from the area.
"Basically, we let the populace know we are still on the ground, still trying to find the bad guys," said Cook, of Baltimore, Md. "We just come out here, make sure we show our presence."
Prior to the chase for the bad guy, Cook and his Soldiers met with Abdul-Jabar in the local Iraqi Army safe house. The Iraqi Army officer has been a dependable partner for the Steel Knights, Cook said.
"Whatever info the IAs have, we take it back and see what we come up with," Cook said. "It's been great. He gives information and they pretty much take care of their area."
On the May 8 patrol, the Steel Knights showed up and were greeted by droves of children, as well as adults. Sgt. Burton passed out bottles of water and sports drinks to eager children.
"They see us walking around. They know we are not just in vehicles," Cook said. "As long as we stay active, we keep it quiet."
"Keeping it quiet" is a task that's falling increasingly on the Iraqis, Cook said, as they take more and more responsibility for keeping the peace.
"They got it, we are just here to help," Cook said. "They keep them quiet and that's the best thing we can ask for."
Spc. John Cruz of Battery A, agreed with his platoon sergeant. The Austin, Texas native said he has seen the Iraqi Army soldiers step up in their role during his deployment.
"I think they contribute a great deal," he said. "Our guidance is to be in a supervisory role and help them make a smooth transition."
Spc. Ryan Chapman of Olathe, Kan., related that his favorite part of any mission is meeting the Iraqi children who flock to American Soldiers. He said he feels a sense of concern for their security.
"I got a lot of nieces and nephews so I like to reach out to the kids," Chapman said. "A lot of them are afraid of us at first, but we don't want them to be afraid of us."
When the patrol was over, Cook and his men returned to their base, sweaty and tired, but still alert. It was another patrol, and another day when the Steel Knight Soldiers could be satisfied with the knowledge that their presence helped strengthen their Iraqi counterparts and kept the bad guy on the run.